SALT LAKE CITY — Conservative voters don’t have to like President Donald Trump to give him a second term. They have to believe they need him — and this week’s political news gave them two reasons to do just that.
In Alabama, lawmakers passed the country’s most restrictive abortion ban, igniting a legal battle that will likely lead all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the House of Representatives, Democrats passed the Equality Act, which protects the LGBTQ community at the apparent expense of religious freedom.
The first development was a clear victory for Republicans. The second was a clear victory for Democrats. Both are part of quickly escalating culture wars that illustrate the high stakes of the 2020 election.
In order to overturn Roe v. Wade, which many observers say is the true aim of Alabama’s new law, conservatives need to control the Supreme Court. That would be all-but-guaranteed by Trump’s reelection.
In order to direct when and how federal LGBTQ rights are expanded, conservatives need to control Congress or the White House. With the Equality Act already about two votes away from passing the Senate, preserving presidential veto power seems like a safer bet.
Of course, conservatives were never going to give up the White House without a fight. But Trump’s low favorability rating, trade wars and tax reform that left many families disappointed could have gone a long way toward dampening voter support.
This week’s news gives the Republican Party — and particularly members with deep religious faith — a stronger rallying cry.
Was a week like this inevitable? Maybe, since America remains fractured.
But, at least in the case of the Equality Act, Democrats seemed to purposefully avoid potential common ground. They didn’t just ignore the concerns of religiously conservative leaders and groups. They dismissed them, arguing that religious freedom was never meant to ensure a “license to discriminate.”
That’s an unfortunate approach to such a monumental change. Rather than ensure broad support for a new law outlawing sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination in housing, hiring and other areas of public life, Democrats avoided compromise at all costs.
The Equality Act does not seek to avoid lawsuits against religiously affiliated schools or organizations that will likely spring up if proposed LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections become law. Instead, it limits the application of current federal religious freedom law, weakening religious conservatives’ ability to defend themselves in court, as the Deseret News reported this week.
The act’s supporters have said these steps are necessary to protect the LGBTQ community. They said the law should outlaw anti-LGBTQ bias in all forms, just as it never allows race-based discrimination.
“We should treat LGBTQ people no better or worse,” said Laura Durso, vice president of the LGBT and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, to the Deseret News.
A large majority of Americans seem to agree. Nearly 7-in-10 U.S. adults, including 79% of Democrats, 56% of Republicans and majorities of all major faith groups, support LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, according to Public Religion Research Institute.
However, the same survey showed that fewer than half of Americans (42%) simultaneously support LGBTQ nondiscrimination and oppose religious freedom protections. Overall, more than one-third of U.S. adults (36%) support allowing business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons, the institute reported.
Findings like that show there’s a large group of Americans who want LGBTQ rights and religious freedom to be protected at the same time, said Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, to the Deseret News in March.75 comments on this story
“There is a way forward that could get the votes of a lot more Americans and could actually feasibly be extremely bipartisan,” he said.
That approach, which Schultz and others refer to as “Fairness for All,” would be a hard sell at a time of rising polarization. But it would give religious freedom and LGBTQ rights advocates — and everyone in between — something to feel good about, rather than one more reason to seek power at any cost.
As long as one-sided legislation, whether on abortion or LGBTQ rights, dominates political discourse, religious conservatives just may feel like Trump is their only hope.